Thanks, Aļina, you’ve made my day

The early afternoon telephone call from a London-based producer at BBC Radio Five Live came as a surprise. Latvia, once again, was in the news. Would I be willing to be interviewed?

Prince Charles, on a Nov. 8 visit to Rīga, had been slapped in the face by a carnation-wielding young woman from Daugavpils named Aļina, according to news reports. She told journalists that she was protesting Latvia’s aspirations to NATO membership and the British government’s participation in military strikes in Afghanistan.

The producer was searching for someone who could go on the air live and answer some questions about Latvia.

It didn’t make sense to me that a radio show in Britain wanted to talk to someone in the United States about a country that was closer and just as accessible. I volunteered to track down some home telephone numbers of contacts in Latvia. But the producer pointed out that the scheduled time for the interview was to be about 10:30 p.m. London time, half past midnight in Latvia.

So a few hours later I found myself back on the telephone, listening to radio host Richard Evans wind up a discussion about British football. And then he introduced the next topic, the flower power attack on Prince Charles.

As I listened to my name being announced to God knows how many British listeners, I suddenly recalled Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga’s well-done rapid-fire give-and-take with the host of BBC television’s "HardTalk." The president had stood her ground, looking and sounding as if she’ve done these sorts of interviews a hundred times.

But I’m not used to being asked questions. What if I blunder? I’m a print journalist, not a radio journalist. I’m used to writing, erasing, reworking, crafting, but not to tap dancing on the air. What if I’m asked something really serious? What if I want to back out right now? What if I just hang up the phone…

I was on.

The first question was easy: What kind of place is Latvia? From my earlier discussion with the producer, I knew the BBC was looking for basic facts: small country, Baltic Sea, 2.4 million people, the capital city’s 800th anniversary. And soon we were chatting about the architecture of Rīga and about relations between Latvians and Russians, topics most anyone could learn about by surfing the Web or perusing a few books.

And before I was even warmed up, the interview was over.

The way I figure it, I got five minutes of fame. That means I still have 10 to spare. For now, I have a story to tell my family, colleagues and friends about the day I was on the BBC.

Thanks, Aļina, you’ve made my day.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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